Friday, April 29, 2016

Big News!

Gong--my FIL and Mama's father--will become a US citizen on Tuesday!

After more than 40 years living in this country as a resident alien from Thailand, he decided to try for citizenship (Ma, his wife, had gotten it in the late 70s, I believe.)  After a long, sometimes befuddling process with applications, interviews, and the like, he got the letter last night--about the ceremony on Tuesday!  

So we'll all head to the ceremony to celebrate.  (I went to another US citizenship ceremony when I was about the kiddos' age; my next-door neighbor's mom was becoming a citizen.  It was very quick. She stood up, raised her right hand with everyone else, the judge issued the oath and congratulated them.  Done.)

And apparently, there is enough time to register him to vote against Trump!!  

Thursday, April 28, 2016

A Bee in My Bonnet

Yesterday was the 5th-grade spelling bee at the kiddos' school.  And they were two of the 12 or so kids to compete, having scored highest in the grade on the qualifying test.  They weren't terribly enthusiastic about it, didn't obsessively study or anything.

And I was a nervous wreck.

But there we all were yesterday--the contestants, the whole 5th grade, the parents, and several teachers and staff.  I realized quite quickly--actually, I knew it from my own elementary school class spelling bees--that these contests were as much about mastering your nerves as the English language. And so it proved.  The majority of the children (most of whom I know, being in the accelerated class with the kiddos) could spell the words they went out on.  They rushed or got lost in the middle or misspoke without realizing it.  Ugh.  Agonizing to watch, even after our two were eliminated.  Perhaps especially as it got closer to the end with four really confident and competent spellers.

And then, one by one, they went down and there was a winner.  And I think the majority of us were glad it was over.

I mean, really, when do you ever need to spell a word aloud?  Seriously, we're hardly responsible for our own spelling at any point because of autocorrect.  It's an old-timey skill that we still encourage in kids, despite the lack of necessity.  Interestingly, Mama's European coworkers say there aren't, for instance, German spelling bees (is that because their spelling makes sense??).   That said, the real skills--mastering a body of knowledge, keeping your cool under pressure, being a good sport even after you've lost--are very important.  And ones that I definitely believe should be encouraged.

I just don't need to watch it in real time.  I've already suggested they throw next year's qualifying test. But both said it was fun and that they'd be glad to do it again!

Monday, April 25, 2016


Lots of little things:

  • Sis got braces.  She didn't want me to talk about it until she'd told her friends.  It's been a rough transition, but she's settling in.  She's going to miss caramel most.
  • Our piano recital is this weekend.  Yes, "our"--I'm playing "Greensleeves."
  • I'm doing a Zentangle tile a day and am enjoying both the process and the product.  Can't wait to go to Kripalu with Gommie and take another class.
  • I had been working on a baby blanket for a friend but made a yarn miscalculation and will have to "frog it" (rip it out--"rip it, rip it!") and change the design.  Still, there's lots of time.
  • Practices have increased for the play the kids are doing at school.  And parents are starting to gather costumes and create the program.  It seemed so far off and now it's just not.
  • I'm loving the new seasons of "Outlander" and "Grantchester" on tv.  I quit "Mr. Selfridge," just not interested.  And "Vikings" is okay enough.
  • Mama made pulled pork in her new pressure cooker yesterday.  Pretty tasty.  But the hissing and spitting are a little much for me; I'll stick with my slow cooker.  Still, it was great to have her cook.
  • We went to a hockey game last night--our local team is in the playoffs--terrible game and not just because they lost.  But I do like watching all that amazing skating.  And everybody likes game food!
  • The kids are producing a stuffed animal version of Hamilton.  I love those!  I love that, at almost 11 years old, they still play with their critters.
  • They've also made a version of the Hamilton set on Minecraft.  
  • And they sing it all the time.
  • I can't believe we're actually already planning their 11th birthday parties (or not, Bud might opt for a fancy sushi dinner in town instead.  Sis wants a sleepover.)
  • I'm heading to my new hospice patient in a bit.  First one in awhile.  Glad to be back at it.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Let the Tours Begin!

It's tour season at the historic house!  I gave my first 5th-grade tour yesterday.  After two years--I missed last spring season because of surgery--I was a little rusty on the pacing of the tour, even though I know all the material.  I almost completely forgot to do the seed packet activity and I spent extra long talking about showering or not!  But it doesn't matter in the end; the kids had a great time, particularly because it was a beautiful day and there was plenty of time for outside games of snap-the-whip, graces, and hoops.  We even saw a Northern Harrier Hawk fly over.

As much as I often get anxious about tour season and about the individual tours themselves, I really do like teaching the kids and discussing history; it's what I miss most about my museum jobs  (I also liked writing materials and handouts--I hated the meetings and reports and cold calls and scheduling and constant worrying about budgets and administrative tasks, all of which was the majority of the day.  But I do miss the teaching, which is why I like tour season.)

And there's always the dressing up!  I have a new top this year, called a shortgown, with tied enclosures.  It's a lovely green and pink floral pattern.  I also have another English bodice, in navy, with a reversible green and navy floral print.  I think I now officially have more nice 18th-century clothes than decent 21st-century ones!


It's no secret that I have wanted to go see the hot Broadway ticket, Hamilton, along with half of the nation, I imagine.  But the tickets have been prohibitively expensive.   I just can't pay $600+ each for the pleasure . . . so we listen to the soundtrack and read articles about the show in the paper instead.

Until Wednesday.  Mama has a friend at the office who realized early on that Hamilton was impressive and important and so he bought sets of tickets to sell for a profit.  And on Wednesday he told Mama that he'd noticed that the prices were the lowest they'd been in awhile, maybe the lull between spring break and summer tourists.  We'd stopped looking.  But Mama called me midday and said there were four tickets on Stub Hub inside the range we were willing to pay.  For that night.

And so she bought them.  We were a bit worried that they might be counterfeit, some of the resale tickets are, since there's such profit to be made.  But we were going to take the chance (Stub Hub reimburses your loss, if so.)  We picked up the kids after play practice at school and headed down . . . .

Right into the worst traffic we've ever seen heading into the city on a weekday.  More than two hours instead of closer to half that.  Ugh.  We tried not to stress.  But our Waze GPS said we wouldn't get to midtown until 7:20, with showtime at 8--and we still had to park and then pick up the tickets at another location.  And we hadn't eaten!  We had thought to stop on the way down, but the traffic took all of our time.

We got to the parking garage at 7:23 and the race began.  Mama ran to get the tickets and the kids and I headed to the theater, picking up chips and cookies at a nearby deli.  But we did all meet at the theater by 7:40.  Now just to see if the tickets were real.  We got up to the door--and the first three tickets scanned easily, but the usher got stuck on the last one; I think he scanned it 6 times before it went through.  Whew.  They were real tickets!  Mama said that when the ticket wasn't scanning all she could think of was how she wasn't going to get to see the show!

But all was well--actor/composer Lin-Manuel Miranda was even scheduled to perform (we had wondered if the tix were cheaper because he was out of town)--and we headed to our seats--but someone was in them!!! Oh, ugh, were they really good counterfeits???  No, the people were in the wrong seats.  I tell you, I sat down and didn't want to get up again.  These were our seats for Hamilton!  And really good, all things considered.  Fourth row front mezzanine, with an aisle!!!  We had a great view.

And the show was amazing!!!  I'm not even sure I can put it into words.  So, the things that stand out:

  • the bare bones wooden-framed but adaptable set with the two levels was well-utilized;
  • the lighting, especially in the George III parts, accentuated the drama and mood;
  • oh, the actors and dancers!  Lin-Manuel Miranda has amazing presence despite being diminutive and not a strong Broadway-belting singer (he can rap, though! And move.)  All the main characters were powerful, one just as good as the next with no weak ones.  I think applause stopped the show after every solo.  I liked Phillippa Soo as Eliza, especially.  And the chorus/dancers were extremely talented.
  • costumes--I loved, loved, loved the costumes, especially the women's.  And it made my little historian self so happy when they switched from early to late 18th-century gowns--from wide panniers to empire waists.  The white corsets and vests on the male and female dancers, both with thick tights, were versatile--becoming Redcoats, citizens, bartender, ballgowns, whatever was needed.  Also, it allowed us to see just how amazing muscular those dancers were (and were probably easier to dance in.)  And all the white then guaranteed that the main characters wearing colors were easier to follow.  Did I saw that I loved the Schuyler sisters' gowns?!
  • the staging of the numbers was effective and inventive--the way they "rewound" time during the wedding toast, how they slowed down a bullet during the dual, how the wood became a podium or a ship's plank or the windows of an NYC house . . . .
  • the music!!  I'm neither knowledgeable or really a fan of hip hop or rap, but the score captured the energy of what must have been a chaotic time.  There were also quiet songs too, which created a beautiful rhythm with the more energetic songs.  And the lyrics!  So clever--Hamilton was "the ten dollar Founding Father without a father" and such.  Plus references to other musicals--1776, South Pacific, Pirates of Penzance.  
  • the non-traditional casting--a Latino Hamilton, African-American Washington and Jefferson, a Chinese-American Eliza?  Loved it.  Added the dimension of the powerless "Young, Scrappy, and Hungry" vs the powerful, which reflects current political issues of social justice, African Americans and the police, Mexican immigrants, etc.  
  • indeed, the whole story, about the one Founding Father whom we don't often discuss, was enlightening.  It's been a long time since I've reflected on the early days of the nation--and I'm not sure I ever studied the Federalist Papers or could confidently discuss the different factions of the early days.  But the show didn't make it too dense.  I'd say it was the best way to re-examine the period (barring in mind that this was theater first and some differ with the heroic depiction of Hamilton.)
We LOVED it!  We laughed and cheered and clapped and cried (oh, I had to hold back sobs when Hamilton's son is injured in a duel and his parents are by his side as he dies and as they continue to mourning, living through the unimaginable, as the line goes.)

We all stood clapping before the lights even dimmed and rose again.  And then, Miranda spoke--it's Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS week when casts gather money for organizations (I've seen, if I recall correctly, Rent cast members and Glenn Close make appeals.)  And so Miranda did (while acknowledging how much we'd already spent on tickets!) and then someone else mentioned his Pulitzer this week and we all cheered some more.  LOVED it!

We didn't bother stage-dooring.  I can only guess at the crowds.  So we grabbed some Junior's take out for dinner on the late, long ride home.  And we listened to the soundtrack all the way . . . and haven't stopped since.

I even offered to rap some of it at my historic house tour (my own Hamilton-era performance) yesterday!

Sunday, April 17, 2016

36 Hours in WMass

Spring Break 2016 is nearly over for us.  Today is the last day before school and we're home, playing videogames, lazing around, and enjoying a beautiful spring day.  From the couch.  Because the last day and a half were pretty packed with activities.

On Friday morning, we slept in, packed, and left for Northampton in the western corner of Massachusetts. It's a pretty and pretty easy drive north and would have been even prettier in almost any other season--spring isn't really here yet, so there's barely grass and the trees are still mainly skeletal brown.  At least there's no dirty snow anywhere.  And it's warm enough to go without a jacket in the sun.

Because of the timing, the first thing we did in this college town (home to Smith) was eat.  In fact, we ate somewhere the kids and I had eaten before--at Sylvester's, a breakfast and lunch place in an older building on one of the main drags.  It's where Gommie and I had gone with the kids and our minister many, many years ago, in 2009, when Mama was in Thailand.  Of course, the kids didn't remember it.  But it was as good as last time--clam chowder, chicken caesar salad, Irish eggs benedict (with corned beef hash), Cubano sandwich, and a bacon cheeseburger on a brioche.  And a delicious hot chocolate that Sis really enjoyed.  I hadn't realized last time that the building housed the original manufacturer of graham crackers, Dr. Sylvester Graham.  But I didn't notice any extra graham-y-ness on the menu.

The kids and I strolled the street as Mama drove a few blocks to the Hotel Northampton, a 1920s mainstay that is now an Historic Hotel of America.  We stopped at a yarn store and picked up a few skeins for a scarf.  And a felted wool sheep for Mama.  There was also a Newbury Comics store, but we didn't have time to stop because we had a few things to do before our big evening activity.

Rice Paper
Blue Morpho
Glass Wing
We went first to Magic Wings, which is a butterfly-arium--thousands of butterflies in a rainforest-like garden inside.  It was lovely, the largest one we've ever seen (including AMNH, Bronx Zoo, Norwalk Aquarium, Boston science museum.)  I do like being surrounded by butterflies.  And I "met" a few new ones--the lovely white wings with black detailing of the Rice Paper and the completely transparent and surprising wings of the Glass Wing.  There were also gorgeous Blue Morphos that flit around in indigo and violet luminescence.  But they rarely land and keep their wings open but for a split second.  So they are really hard to photograph.  And I tried.  Sis and Mama had more luck, even found a few sunning their wings open.  So, in the end, I did manage a few glorious photos.  None really landed on us this time, though, which disappoints Bud, but since they didn't land on any of us, it was ok.

Then we kicked off the warm-weather family putt-putt golf season!  And we started it with some actual time on the driving range.  Who knew hitting a ball with a driver could be so hard?  I don't think we were making contact more than 50% of the time!  But it was fun.  Putt putt was better, though, more our speed (and by "our," I mean "their"--I just watch.)  We had the course almost completely to ourselves and had fun comparing strokes to par.  I'd say they were mostly at par.  Sis even got two holes-in-one!

And then it was time to go to our Owl Prowl at a nature center in Canton, CT.  We got there early, but Mama had to rush out for flashlights (the lady on the phone had said not to bring anything; the leader of the group said we needed them.)  She missed our first foray outside, when we visited the habitats of the rescued owls and then actually saw at a distance of about 20 yards the silhouette of a Barred Owl in a tree.  We watched for a few minutes before it flew off.  Mama got back in time to hear the presentation on North American owls and we definitely needed the flashlights in the dark woods behind the center.  Our leader has perfected the Barred Owl call, something akin to "who cooks for you?" he said.  And one of the center's rescued Barred Owls responded (the leader could recognize the owl Harry's slightly warped call.)  But then a symphony arose as at least one wild owl if not more joined Harry in song.  Gorgeous.  And you could still hear it deep into the woods as we saw where some owls used to nest in an old sycamore and then went into the meadow and looked at the stars, still hearing some of the symphony back and forth.  Really quite magical.

It was late by the time we left and so we grabbed fast food and headed back to our hotel, having a good night's sleep before the east-facing windows brightened the room (worst room-darkening curtains ever.)  We had a leisurely continental breakfast downstairs--some pretty good glazed cinnamon bear claws--and eventually left the hotel for our Saturday's big activity:  Patriot's Day celebration and programming at Historic Deerfield.  We had never been to the house museums that make up Historic Deerfield, thinking they were rather dry house museum tours focusing on obscure genealogies and decorative arts, but there were many other things going on to mark the anniversary of the "shot heard round the world" at Lexington and Concord. We made "liberty" tea bags with mint and lemon balm, talked to a docent about powder horn carving (which I compared to scrimshaw and was vehemently corrected.  I still say the crafts are similar--they're both carving on bone), and had a very lively interaction with the docents doing the cooking demo, who both discussed making drinking chocolate and then actually demonstrated how they made a coal bed for a baking kettle and put hot coals on the lid!  Really very interesting, even though I'd heard it described a dozen times.  Then we visited just one house because, indeed, we were right--a dry-as-dirt PAID docent droning on about clocks and wallpaper and portraits to ten-year-olds. Mercy, if I were the education director . . . .  We rushed off to the encampment where Sis enjoyed seeing a weapons demo on horseback--Mama and I learned about the efficacy of a sharp steel blade back by an 800 lb horse and a 200 lb man with gear--as the re-enactor said, he doesn't even have to exert much effort to be deadly (we laughed about how he decapitated that bad ol' Tory Watermelon in his demo!  I think you had to be there.)  I liked seeing the women cooking cornbread and beef stew outside.  And I LOVE the fife and drum music played by the Nathan Hale Ancient Fife and Drum Corps.  We also enjoyed our wagon ride up and down the preserved street, enjoying all the 18th-century houses.

And lunch was good, too!  We had a very tasty repast at Champney's in the Deerfield Inn, with French onion soup, chowder, a charcuterie, fish and chips, fried calamari, and poutine with maple pulled pork.  Mmm, mmm good.  While we were eating, the re-enactor rider from Lexington arrived announcing the beginning of hostilities at Lexington and Concord and General Gage's maneuvers.  The kids and I watched from the porch of the inn as the rider encouraged the captain to call up the local militia and then everyone marched off.  But instead of going to war, we went back to lunch.

Winding up our trip, we stopped at Richardson's for some ice cream (mmmm, purple cow and burnt-sugar and butter, which tastes like maple) and chocolates.  And we went to Webs, the largest yarn store in the country, which I had shopped online (at but didn't know was in Northampton!  Ooooh, what a place!  So many wonderful colors and textures.  So much temptation.  I chose a few skeins to make mandalas but didn't have an exact project in mind to go buying a dozen skeins.  I did learn about their line of Valley yarns, in all the different weights and lovely colors.  I'll be dreaming of things to make with those (I even took some photos so I could remember which weights I liked.)

Lastly, we stopped for Tibetan food at our favorite restaurant halfway home.  We got there just at 5 and so didn't have to wait as we usually do.  Another great meal:  mango dhara drinks, iced chai, avocado potato salad, spicy noodles (Thukpa Dhrangmo), chicken with noodles and veg (Gyathuk Ngopa), dumpling soup (Mokthuk), fried dumplings (Sha Momo), fried bread (Bhaklep), steamed bread (Tingmo), and vinegary slaw (Dhang-tsel.)  So, so good.  And the perfect end to another great 36 hour vacation!

At least we have today to ease into the work week tomorrow . . . .

Thursday, April 14, 2016

All in a Day's Work

Tangling Together

We'll remember this as the Zentangle spring break.

Yesterday, I did an informal mini-class with the kiddos, using both the Apprentice video and the video in the basic kit, and we came up with a nice mosaic (several tiles together--yes, there's a lot of lingo.)    Hermione the cat appreciates the use of black and white.

Bud struck out on his own and has been making several tiles everyday.  He likes the student-friendly Sakura pigma pen, with the plastic tip--it's a slightly thicker line and an indestructible pen.

I've been doing a tile-a-day myself, experimenting with shading and new tangle patterns (below, in approximate order.)  

We decorated the driveway yesterday, as I mentioned, and today?  Well, we'll either do tiny Bijou tiles or start our own family Zendala mosaic.  We'll see.

UPDATE:  We started!

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Season in the Sun

Trigger Warning:  Sad cat musings.

Today was one of those sunny days that Mr. P liked.  We had the windows open, the sun streaming in.  Our three cats found places in the sunlight; Mr. P would have, too.  He loved last spring and summer in his cat tree by the couch, where he sat with me all the months that I recovered from surgery.

We miss him.  I miss him.  And most days I can think of him without getting teary.  Not today.  Because it was the kind of perfect, warm, sunny day which he hadn't experienced in a long while when he died in February.  I remember my mom telling me that one of my dad's last wishes for our cat Curiosity was for him to be in the sun as he died, but of course the vet couldn't do euthanasia that way.  Cats and sunlight just go together.  "We had joy, we had fun, we had seasons in the sun . . . "

Still, Mr P loved a soft blanket and cuddling on our bed in the depth of winter and spent most of December and January upstairs with us.  He was, after all, a very social cat, always "macking" for attention and demanding rubs.  In fact, I think it was his connection to us that alerted us to his illness. When he had that blood clot in his leg that fateful night in January, he didn't hide in the basement and die from congestive heart failure right then, he somehow climbed the steps on three legs and in pain and came looking for Sis and me in the living room, wanting to be with us and trusting we could help.  We did the best we could, even if in the end it couldn't be enough.

I'm just sorry he didn't make it to a last sunny spring day like today.   But I'll always remember him like this in the light . . . .

Playing Outdoors

It's a beautiful day in our neighborhood so we spent some of today outside.  We tossed our Aerobie (the ring-like Frisbee thing) back and forth until we noticed the metal had snapped and the plastic was tearing.  Then the kids played with their parachuters while I rode my bike for a bit.  A parachute got stuck in a tree, but we managed to get it down with a broom, at least until it got really stuck the second time and is still up there.

So we Tangled the driveway.  I think we'll remember this as the Zentangle spring break.  We did tiles this morning while watching the intro video in the basic kit and then we took our practice outside and decorated the driveway!

I'm organizing some intro classes now.  I started with my kiddos and will soon do a pilot class or two with some of my friends, one during the day and one in the evening.  Then a class for kiddos some evening or weekend.  There's also the library, senior center, church, hospice volunteer, local arts guild that I can contact.  I'm seeing a lot of great ideas on the closed CZT list--a project using a wine-stained coaster, class mosaics, different strings and tangles to teach etc.  I just have to figure out prices and such.

But this week is for hanging out with the kiddos.  Next week, I'll get back to CZT plans.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Catch Up: Last Weekend

So, I've mentioned that it's spring break here in our part of Connecticut.  Three years ago, we went to Disney World.  Two years ago, England.  Last year, well, I recovered from major emergency abdominal surgery.  And this year . . . not much.  We'd thought of doing Vermont, but a few of the places we wanted weren't open yet; ditto, Quebec.  Also ditto, Hershey Park, PA.  And I'm not going to DC with every American 8th grader for spring break.  So, we're having a little staycation, so to speak.

Friday night, we headed into "upstate" New York, i.e. Westchester, which was always upstate when I was in NYC.  There is the Wolf Conservation Center in South Salem, which advocates for, protects, and, when possible, re-populates wolves, including gray wolves and Mexican red wolves.  And we went to an evening program to learn about wolves--and to howl with them!!  We only saw four of the resident wolves, the ones trained to be ambassadors to people; the other wolves are not accessible so that they can breed away from humans and their pups can be re-introduced into the wild.  The wolves we saw were beautiful, with those silver eyes and the lanky walk that always says "wolf" to me.  I have heard wolves at the CT Zoo howl before--and it fits every cliche--spine tingling, blood curdling, heart stopping--I've never heard anything as scary as when those wolves began howling at a siren on the highway in the distance.  So I was a bit nervous about hearing that howl again.  We watched them be fed--talk about circling like sharks and even dancing in unison as they tried to anticipate the toss of the raw meat (from Whole Foods, no less!) over the fence--and then we howled at them.  And one of them howled back!  So one howling wolf is okay.  Earlier, and from a distance, when we were watching the informational film in the little center, we heard a howl begin and thought it was the film.  Nope, it was many of the wolves at the conservancy.  Still not as chilling as the zoo ones.  And that's okay.    Sis wondered what it would be like to be a vet to wolves . . . maybe one day she'll find out.

We had dessert first, passing through a town with an ice cream parlor-candy shop combo.  Mmmmm!  Salted caramel.  Black Raspberry.  English Toffee.  Chocolate Lace in Cream.  And Sis's very delicious Frozen Hot Chocolate with Belgian chocolate, milk, ice, and a touch of cinnamon.  So good.  And THEN we hit the Jelly Belly display, loading up little bags with our favorite flavors for the ride home:  tutti frutti, tangerine, mixed cocktail (margarita, mojito, strawberry daiquiri), mango, Grape Crush, cream soda, plum, crushed pineapple, coconut . . . .

And just in case that wasn't enough, we actually did eat dinner--at a diner!  We have had diners on the brain since Providence and so ate at one on our route home.  Meatloaf and mashed potatoes with green beans in tomato sauce, chicken tenders and french fries, lasagna, a hamburger, iceburg lettuce with ranch dressing. Mmmmm.

And then, completely unrelated, I have a new bicycle!  My last one had been lost in the garage accident four years ago and I hadn't really missed it until recently, when Mama and the kids started riding together more.  I always did like riding my bike, with the feel of the wind in my hair and that sense of whooshing through space--the same feeling I liked on boat rides and rollerskating.  But I hadn't thought about riding after my surgery because of my weak core.  My PT said when I could easily push a grocery cart around the store without my brace for 45 minutes that I could try a bike.  I got to that point awhile back but the winter weather wasn't conducive to riding.  Until recently.  And so, we got me a "beach cruiser" bike, with high handlebars and pedal brakes just like I like.  And, well, it's just like remembering how to ride a bike.  Except I'd never worn a helmet before!  I've been zipping around the cul-de-sac, just like I did 35 years ago at home.  Feels so good.

In fact, we've been outside a good deal, for us, recently.  With the warmer weather and some sunshine, albeit not in the last few days, we've been tossing a ring Frisbee thing around (not a solid Frisbee, more like a a flat coronet.)  We're not great shots, but we can go round robin with lots of laughing and encouragement.  As long as we stay clear of the blossoming hyacinths (my favorite) and daffodils.

If the weather holds, maybe we'll go out to the zoo to see the local wolves.

And then, this weekend:  owl prowl!

Catch Up: Two Weekends Ago

As much as I posted about my CZT experience last week, I didn't tell you about our excursions around Providence, a city none of us had visited before.  Unfortunately, the 30-degree/40 mph/snow squalls weather wasn't conducive to any outdoor activities such as Slater Mill, Coggeschwall Farm, or the Roger Williams Zoo that was most recommended to us.  But we did do a few fun indoor things, starting with the Culinary Museum on the campus of Johnson and Wales.  A history of American food and restaurants, mainly, we saw a great exhibition on diners, complete with diner car and fake food.  There was also a section on soda shops, one on the evolution of the stove (from hearth through cast iron and beyond), and another on outdoor cooking, including the Girl Scouts!  We marveled at the exhibition of sugar sculptures--real actual sugar work on display with this amazing lattice.  And a tiny space on the history of foods in ancient China, Greece, and Rome (I think.  Might have been some Aztecs, too.)  The only downside of the whole place?  No cafeteria!

So we searched for local places and Mama found this amazing old hot dog stand, officially called the Olneyville New York System Hot Wieners and Sandwiches.  There were neon signs, chrome bits, wacky signs (buy 1 for the price of two, get second free!), older male staff full of characters, and even bar stools just like the ones in the exhibit.  We had their hot dogs--which are wieners with flat ends in a steamed bun covered in some kind of ground meat and raw onion plus a smattering of seasoning somewhat like nutmeg--and french fries and cheesesteaks and a coffee milk, Rhode Island's signature drink made with coffee syrup.  It was all a riot of local color.

That evening, foregoing another meal, we wandered around downtown near our hotel, the Hotel Providence.  There was a craftsy store (full of artsy things, NOT a craft store), a used bookstore, and two Korean-Japanese places with one that sold bubble tea and other drinks.
LOVED this at the craftsy store Craftland

Exhausted, we spend the evening watching mediocre television--introduced the kids to "Deadliest Catch!"

 Before my Zentangle class began on Sunday evening, we spent the day around town.  Mama and the kids dropped me off at First Unitarian of Providence, which is a 200+ year old congregation in a lovely old building on an amazingly preserved historical street called Benefit.  (We had also marveled at historic Federal Hill the day before.)  I only heard some of the typically Unitarian service because I was distracted by the architecture.  It had the usual somewhat awkward but enthusiastic UU singing (our hearts are there--with so many aging hippies--but we aren't always such great singers in a group and we can rarely keep time) and a sermon about prayer which, also in UU fashion, skipped over the "to whom it may concern" acknowledging how fraught that was for us to focus on how it affects the praying person.  Then there was coffee hour--with real china cups in the early 19th-century parsonage and a book sale!  I felt right at home and missed my own UU congregation, which we haven't seen in awhile.

Mama and the kids did come across their own spiritual message:  the sign at a church down the street said "I find your lack of faith disturbing. --D. Vader"  LOVE IT.

We went to the museum of the famous Rhode Island School of Design, which is free on Sundays.  We wandered some of the galleries, focusing on the period rooms with all of their dec arts.   Mama even analyzed an 18th-century chest for us, you know, having built a replica herself. Sis noticed right away one of the "real" Gilbert Stuart paintings of George Washington.  There were also paintings by Hudson River landscapist Cole, portraitists Copley and Sully, and also the sculpture Nydia the Blind Girl by Rogers and busts by Powers.  We didn't spend too much time in the modern wings, though we nodded at the Warhol cow wallpaper, Rothko, and Twombly.  The kids were starting to sink, Mama was antsy to miss the weather on the drive home, and I was ready to start CZT class.

So even though it was a very short introduction to Providence, we enjoyed ourselves.  And eventually we'll get back for the zoo!

Spring Break

The kids are off school this week and it's mostly a staycation for us, with a few day trips on the weekends.  Last weekend, we went to a "wolf howl" in NY, which meant visiting some of the ambassador wolves of the Wolf Conservation Center--and howling with them!  Next weekend, we have an "owl prowl." Yep, that's the theme of our spring break--animal programs that rhyme. But more about all of that later.

All of which is to say, with the kids home, there isn't much time for posting.  At least not yesterday or today.

Soon, soon.

Friday, April 8, 2016

I'm a New CZT#22 (and it rhymes!)

Wow, what a week!  On Saturday, I headed to Providence for Certified Zentangle Teacher (CZT) training.  As you know, I went to a Zentangle retreat a year ago and really began a regular art practice (most of which is just in my sketchbook.)  I realized I could learn more techniques and improve my skills by taking the official course with founders Rick Roberts and Maria Thomas; I only vaguely thought of teaching regularly.  It was more for personal edification because I really enjoy it.  So when the course offerings for the year were listed, I signed up.
Oops, upside down.  Or proof that there really isn't an upside down!

And it was wonderful.  Now, in the very beginning of the course, we agree not to share any details so as to keep the surprises for the next class of CZTs.  See, Zentangle is copyrighted, trademarked, and even patent pending; it's a business.  So, I will speak about my specific skills but none of the teaching activities, class materials/supplies/etc., or neat touches.  (I will say you will lack for nothing during the course either in the way of accommodations/meals or the class itself, and that, if you are tempted to go and can manage, definitely try to.)

For those of you who don't remember my talking about Zentangle, it's a fun and easy-to-learn method for creating beautiful artworks by drawing repeating and structured patterns (I paraphrase from various Zentangle materials.)  It's really all about encouraging people, particularly adults, who don't believe they can be creative or artistic, to give drawing a try without the pressure to create realistic or representational pictures.  As we say, there are no mistakes here.  The method--with its dots and border and strings and patterns (Tangles) and tiles (little square projects)--helps people avoid anxiety and being overwhelmed by choice by giving them clear and simple steps to follow.  If you can make an "I," "S," "C," and "O," you can do this.  Just ask my mom.  She isn't usually handy and doesn't particularly enjoy making any crafts, but she took to Zentangle when she visited last year and was surprised at the beauty and creativity of her tiles--she's really good and has the hang of it.  It was really touching to see her joy and pride (and we are going to have such fun when we go to Kripalu to take a Zentangle class together!)   And I was pretty much the same way.  After 15 years of academic art history, I would have said I couldn't draw; now, I have changed my perspective.  I especially like the combination of art and mindfulness, the way you enter flow, to borrow a term from Mihaly Csikszentmihaly.  Zentangle couples well with my meditation practice, especially on the days I just can't sit.  Think of it all as one step beyond all those lovely adult coloring books.

So, keeping CZT training itself a secret, I will mention the improvement of my own practice:

  • The biggest technique for me was shading.  I was never much of a shader.  I hesitated to rub gray pencil on everything, especially since there was no internal light source in the piece, it being non-representational.  But if I think of shading as part of the pattern . . . .well, it makes all of the difference!  
  • I also really started turning my tiles as I drew so that I always worked circles and spirals counter-clockwise and drew lines towards me, not away.  By moving the tile around and not my hand position, I am able to keep a steadier, smoother line.  I still work way too fast.  But I'm slowing down.
  • I feel like my composition also has better flow--I can follow or ignore borders and have a better handle on which patterns flow into others seamlessly.  My tiles look more like organic wholes than a bunch of different Tangles together. 

But the best part was the people!  I know, cliche.  But it was true.  I sat in the very back with three other wonderful women who encouraged and inspired each other.  We came to call ourselves the "Back-Row Brigade."   I would get ideas from their tiles and (hopefully) vice versa.  It was nice to have a little cohort, making the 110-member class a little less daunting.  I'd say the class was mostly women (except maybe 3 men), mostly older middle age (with grown children), mostly from the US but also from 14 other countries including China, Taiwan, South Africa, England, Germany, Switzerland.  There were several Texans and even another woman from Connecticut who attended the Zentangle retreat last year (though we didn't really remember each other.)  I'd say I got to know about 10-15 other students during our meals and breaks and evenings.  I look forward to keeping in touch with them, made so much easier with email and Facebook.  

And so now what?  Many of my friends have commented very kindly and supportively about my tiles and training on FB and some have even asked about taking a Zentangle lesson.  And so, I probably will teach a few local classes--at the library, maybe through church, and probably mostly at informal house parties.  For myself, I'm drawing a tile a day, a little creative meditation to start my morning. . . . and to remember my wonderful week in Providence.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

I'm Back

I'm home and had a wonderful time away at a Certified Zentangle Teacher (CZT) seminar.  But before I can tell you about it (and I can't tell too much, CZT promise), I have lots of laundry, an event at the historic house, and a visit to the school for the kids' presentation of their biography projects.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Taking a Break

I'll be away at "mommy camp" until late Wednesday--and without my laptop!--so I don't know how much posting there will be.

But I'll have lots to tell when I get home.

Fools Run In

We haven't usually observed much less celebrated April Fool's Day.  I don't like how often jokes and pranks can be demeaning or disappointing.  But this year we managed a few tricks without any repercussions.

I awoke to a wall of orange sticky notes on my door, announcing "April Fools!"

My house shoes were filled with coins.

And that was just the beginning:  downstairs, "my" couch was covered 4' high with pillows, blankets, and stuffies, while the other couch was marked off with tape.  There was also tape hanging in the doorway to the kitchen and sticky notes all over the tv.   Nowhere to sit!  And, forgetting it was there, I did walk into the hanging tape face-first.   Sticky notes were a theme--later, they spelled out "HI" in the bathroom!  The kids even encircled the interior wall with yarn like they used to when they were preschoolers.

As they waited for bus time, the kids yarn-bombed the front tree and bushes and prepared to tell their bus friends that it was the Yarn Beetle (we had thought of it being a Yarn tree, a la the classic BBC Swiss spaghetti harvest!)  Only the little ones were confused and seemed to believe them.

When they wondered why I hadn't done anything yet, I did warn them as they left that I had the whole day.  And so I did.  But I didn't want anything that I would have to fix (like short-sheeting the beds) or clean up.  So I checked various websites for ideas and found a few.  I put food coloring in the faucets of both sinks so that the water would come out blue and red.  And I bought the ingredients for poundcake-with-frosting "grilled cheese."  (I'd considered making Dirt, but I think I've done that before.)

Bud fell for the red water right away and jumped back from it as if it were blood, but only after getting it on his hands!  I got him good.  Sis stained her hands blue upstairs.  Later, they were a little skeptical about grilled-cheese dinner since I hadn't made that in a long time and the "bread" was small.  Suspicious.  Bud bit it and was shocked; Sis almost wouldn't try it, instead separating the pieces from the orange "cheese" and asking, "Is this paint?"  Bud realized it was cake and frosting and she decided she liked it, too.  We had sauteed the cake in butter so it did look just like a sandwich but smelled even better.

The last joke wasn't really a prank.  We told them the new SW7 movie was now available to watch on tv--and they didn't believe us.  And so I told them it was a prank.  But then later we turned it on--yep, Amazon had the movie available for purchase, streaming only, today (earlier than the DVDs) and so we watched it, as a huge thunderstorm moved through our area.

A pretty good prank day, if I do say so myself.


It was my 20th birthday and my old roommate and suitemates brought me a poinsettia with a spoon in the pot and told me to eat it.  A great trick and delicious!

1 ½  lb. OREOS crushed (beyond recognition)
tub of Cool Whip (large)
package of cream cheese (large)
package of Jello Instant Vanilla pudding (large)

Make the pudding.
Add cream cheese and Cool whip. Add powdered sugar to taste.
Layer pudding mixture and crushed OREOS alternately in clay pot, ending with crushed OREOS on top, so as to look like dirt.
Insert fake flowers.

Alternatives:  In Dirt, use chocolate pudding instead of vanilla and do not add cream cheese.

Alternate:  Sand

1 package Jello vanilla instant pudding
1 tub Cool Whip (8 oz)
1 package vanilla wafers, crushed (12 oz.)
            Make pudding.  Stir in Cool Whip and half of crushed cookies.
            Layer cream mixture and rest of crushed cookies, ending with cookies on top.